Aug. 29, 2014

Proceed with caution: The College’s investments in fossil fuel companies

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January 31, 2013

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One week ago we applauded the College of William and Mary for terminating its contract with adidas because the company’s actions were not on par with the College’s standard of ethics. This week we urge the College to continue that same line of thinking when considering its investments in fossil fuel companies. Unlike the adidas contract, these investments have a major stake in the College’s endowment. Nevertheless, we believe the College must strive to partner only with companies that have the same ethical values.

Sustainability is not a fad. As the feasibility of fossil fuel alternatives continues to become a reality, fossil fuel use will decline. The College needs to invest in economically sustainable options in order to stay competitive in the future.

Immediately divesting from fossil fuel companies, however, is not a practical path. The College is constantly limited by its lack of funding and dropping these investments would severely limit growth. To ensure the College is able to remain economically secure while distancing itself from fossil fuels, we must establish a clear and pragmatic plan for change.

We suggest the College start moving away from these fossil fuel agencies through its own research. We need to learn more about our financial tie to these fossil fuel agencies. Once we understand how exactly we are tied to them, we can look for financially responsible ways to reinvest the College’s money in environmentally friendly agencies.

This process can start at the student level. Instead of making signs to oppose the College’s ties to fossil fuels, students should take classes on environmental ethics and conduct their own independent research in order to understand the intricacies of the situation. Then we can work with the College to promote change.

Students at the College should look into creating a committee, in the same way that they formed a committee from the Student Ethical Fashion Organization. This committee can then weigh the pros and cons of severing ties with fossil fuel companies. Outside of the endowment, there could be a multitude of consequences, such as fluctuations in donor input. The committee can collect research and data so that when the College does act, we will have anticipated the effects of these actions.

The campus has shown a commitment to the environment through the Student Environmental Action Committee and student opposition to the Surry coal plant. We believe the student body values environmental advocacy, and we are proud of the College’s commitment to sustainability.

Any shift in the College’s investments is a major change that no one should take lightly. The most important step the College can take right now is not to immediately divorce itself from fossil fuel companies but to establish a plan of action. Students and administrators must work together to figure out a way for the College to put its money where its mouth is and eventually cut ties with environmentally unethical practices. With a carefully thought-out plan, the College will be able to both grow and divest from fossil fuel companies.

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. Russell Zerbo
    February 13, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    As an alumnus and former Flat Hatter I just wanted to commend the ed board for making their position clear and acknowledging that the college's goal to produce progressive, effective graduates is in direct conflict with the college's investments in fossil fuels. There is no more destructive industry than fossil fuels. I live in Philadelphia and work with many people who's literal backyards have been ravaged by coal mining and natural gas drilling. A majority of these people value their independence and their ability to drink water that comes from their own wells. Once your town becomes a treasure trove for those looking to extract fossil fuels with outside labor and sell it overseas, your water is no longer safe to drink. An investment in fossil fuels is a contribution to this behavior. I will be attending the Divestment Convergence at Swarthmore beginning Feb. 22 and I urge all students to pay attention to what comes of it, schedule meetings with the college's investment people and present sustainable, low impact investment options to replace investments in destructive practices. If investment alternatives are not presented you will not be taken seriously.

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